Dr. Rose Zacharias
As a part-time emergency-room physician, fulltime president of the Ontario Medical Association and mom to four teenagers, Zacharias, 50, runs mainly for the mental health benefits
The president of the Ontario Medical Association speaks and advocates for the province’s 43,000 doctors and medical students. With the media full of stories about burnout among healthcare workers, severe staffing shortages, backlogged surgeries and an outbreak of respiratory diseases in children, it's a daunting job. Dr. Rose Zacharias of Orillia, Ont., took over the role in May 2022, and she relies on two main sources of support: one is the expertise of the organization’s 300 staff in government and media relations, economics, policy and research. And the other is running.
Zacharias only started running in her mid-30s, after her fourth baby, as a way to connect with other moms and boost her mood. Now 50, she still enjoys the companionship and the mental health benefits that running brings, and despite her demanding schedule, she still runs almost every day. “Running is protected time for me,” she says, “and an opportunity to build relationships. Some of my best conversations that I’ve ever had have been when I’ve been out running.”
She started with a learn-to-run program, then ran her first 5k, and gradually moved up in distance. “I felt like a million dollars when I could run consistently for 30 minutes without stopping,” she says. “I set my sights on races, but the real motivation was the social aspect, and getting back in shape.”
Zacharias tackled her first marathon in 2010, and ran one every year for the next eight years. She was training for Hamilton’s Around the Bay 30k race in 2020 when the pandemic started, and the race was cancelled. She picked up a few virtual races, but missed the camaraderie of in-person racing, and saw her mileage drop significantly. But she managed to get in a half-marathon last summer (Midland, Ont.’s Butter Tart Trot), and, when we spoke, she was looking forward to a 10k Egg Nog Jog with her friends to ring in the holiday season. “I don’t even know which city it’s in,” Zacharias laughs, “but my friend said we should do it!”
Despite the disappointment of not being able to run with others and letting go, perhaps temporarily, of training for longer races, she never fully lost the motivation to get out there, mainly because of how much better running makes her feel. “I’ve had experience with mild to moderate depression, and I know that running is a tool in my toolkit to battle low mood,” Zacharias says. “I’ve had to be so disciplined when I have not felt like it, to get out the door. I know in my head that I’ve got to go out for a run. I can feel the endorphins rise; I can feel my mind wander into that daydreaming, restorative and healing space.”
Running, for Zacharias, is also a spiritual experience and an opportunity to reflect on her own faith, which she says is grounded in social justice and the belief that she has been created to make a difference in the world. “I have my best prayer times when I run,” she says.—